Marcus J. Molinaro knows all too well that his GOP has failed to elect a statewide candidate since back in 2002, that Democrats far outnumber Republicans in New York, and that “the path ahead is not simple or easy.”
But just two days into his brand-new candidacy for governor against a powerful incumbent, the Dutchess County executive made it clear Wednesday in Buffalo that he intends to mount a personal campaign against Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo.
Launching his local effort before a small group of supporters at Republican headquarters on Main Street, Molinaro at various times labeled the incumbent “corrupt,” “corrosive,” “loud,” “argumentative,” and committed to “putting the personal politics of ambition and greed above the people.”
And he promised he is just getting started.
“Today, our governor believes he is the government,” Molinaro said. “I’m sorry, he’s wrong. You, the people of the State of New York, are the government.”
Molinaro, 42, seemed to appear out of nowhere over the past few weeks as Republican leaders dealt with other prospective candidates. That stemmed from his assertion early in the year that he would not enter the 2018 race.
But Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy noted in his Wednesday introductory remarks that party leaders never fully dismissed the possibility of a Molinaro candidacy. After weeks of discussion, Molinaro jumped back into the race earlier this week with announcements in his Westchester County hometown of Tivoli (where he served as the nation’s youngest mayor) and Albany.
On Wednesday in Buffalo, he rattled off themes proclaimed by a long line of Republican gubernatorial candidates – all unsuccessful – who centered their campaigns around less regulation of business and lower taxes. But Molinaro introduced new and biting criticism of the corruption he says has engulfed the Cuomo administration, repeatedly citing the bribery trial of Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco and the Buffalo Billion scandal slated for trial this summer.
“Corruption had reached the highest level of government and this governor has been unwilling to confront it openly,” Molinaro said.
“This economic development process has been corrupted by pay-to-play politics that will be on trial for several months,” he added.
On several occasions throughout his more than 20-minute speech, Molinaro said he would differ from Cuomo by “setting the tone” for transparent government, more open procurement practices, and the end of “four men in a room” government.
The new candidate faces a more than daunting task ahead, including at least one Republican opponent in State Sen. John A. DeFranciso of Syracuse, a powerful force in Albany with significant support. He must also raise enough money to challenge Cuomo’s $30 million treasury, overcome the governor’s advantages of incumbency, and work to raise his own negligible name recognition.
But it was clear Wednesday that Langworthy and his influential Erie County organization is solidly behind Molinaro. The chairman was joined for the announcement by Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr., Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter and a host of party officials and volunteers.
Langworthy, in his introductory remarks on Wednesday, made it clear how he views the nomination process.
“He will be the Republican nominee. I believe he will be the Conservative nominee,” he said of Molinaro.
Earlier, he told The Buffalo News he likes the kind of candidacy Molinaro is launching.
“He’s a very energetic, optimistic, Republican leader,” the chairman said. “It’s a kind of contagious optimism that’s different from your stereotypical politician. It’s easy to talk about the gloom and doom of New York State, but he’s a solution-driven guy.”
Molinaro began his political career at 18, winning a village trustee post in Tivoli before becoming mayor at 19. He then went on the County Legislature and Assembly before becoming Dutchess County executive. Langworthy also counts that background as a plus.
“For a young man, he has a great deal of experience and has had to deal with what Albany does to local government,” he said.
Mainly because of Langworthy, Molinaro has proven no stranger to Western New York. The county executive has headlined several fund-raising events for the local GOP over the past several years.
“He brings a crowd to its feet,” Langworthy said. “That contagious energy will help build a strong campaign as he gets around the state.”
Molinaro has long been viewed as a potential statewide candidate, making the rounds at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016 – a quadrennial ritual traditionally considered obligatory for aspiring statewide candidates.
This year, Langworthy detects a glimmer of GOP hope. He points to the Democratic primary candidacy of actress Cynthia Nixon and its potential of tying up Cuomo into mid-September, and the governor’s need to “fight from the extreme left” against a liberal primary challenger.
“He tried to masquerade as a centrist in his first term and now you see him as a liberal leader,” Langworthy said.
That position could alienate some upstate voters, he said, while opening the possibility that Nixon could gain the influential Working Families line and draw the votes of liberal Democrats in November.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner issued a statement late Wednesday that may preview some of the campaign's local issues.
“The Republican Party will have a hard time convincing the people of Western New York that they are the better choice in 2018 after Andrew Cuomo has invested unprecedented resources in this region, creating thousands of jobs and fueling a Buffalo renaissance that few could have predicted eight years ago,." Zellner said. "That is the record Republicans and Marc Molinaro have to run against, and we look forward to that debate.”